It has been about a month since I first arrived in Arad, Delaware’s Partnership 2000 city as a participant on OTZMA. At the time, the situation in Gaza had escalated to the point where the Israeli Army to defend the citizens living in the south of Israel from the daily Hamas rocket attacks. During this stressful time for Israel, I, like all Israelis, continued to live as much of a normal life as possible. I received emails and phone calls from family and friends asking if I was coming home. I appreciated their concern, however I knew that coming home was not an option. My fellow Otzma participants and I felt it was more important to stand strong behind Israel and our sister city communities in the south during this difficult time.
Since the cease-fire, many participants in my program, including myself, have moved back to their partnership cities. This week I will be participating in a seminar focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We will be spending time in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and most importantly Sderot. In Sderot we will be spending time speaking with citizens about their experiences and looking at the aftermath in Gaza and Sderot.
In addition to spending time learning more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I have been spending a lot of time volunteering in Arad. As soon as I arrived in Arad I felt at home. I have been volunteering three mornings per week at the high school helping to prepare the students for the English Begrut (the exams that Israeli high school students have to pass in order to graduate). The teachers there are so welcoming. The 12th grade English teacher, Bela, even gives me a goody bag each week. In addition to the friendly staff, I have really enjoyed helping the students gain confidence speaking English while getting to know about their lives in Arad. Another volunteering placement that I have really enjoyed is Biet Giladi, Arad’s senior day center. There, the elderly come together for two meals a day and an abundance of activities such as exercise class, singing, gardening, and bingo. I have been teaching conversational English and computer skills to a group of eager members and enjoying card games over coffee and tea. The most rewarding part of volunteering at Biet Giladi is the warm people with whom I get to share a little bit of their day while practicing my Hebrew and hearing the many stories that compose their lives. It is a really amazing to be a part of an organization that provides friendship and a community for many senior citizens of Arad, who, without this program, would be spending most days alone.
While I have spent most of my time in Arad volunteering with amazing organizations, one of my highlights thus far was when my alma mata, the University of Delaware, made a trip to Arad during UD’s annual Hillel taglit-birthright trip. We spent the morning catching up while beautifying the outside of the new young adult center/partnership offices for the upcoming dedication ceremony. We sanded the fence, trimmed the bushes, cleared the weeds, and planted a small flower garden. We all enjoyed helping out our sister city while Ofra Nathan Bezalel, the Living bridge Coordinator, talked about the connection between Delaware and Arad. She discussed potential opportunities for students to participate in Living bridge programs between Arad and Delaware. If you are interested in learning about these opportunities, you can check out http://www.shalomdelaware.org/section.aspx?id=59, or for more information on OTZMA go to www.otzma.org. Overall, it was a great experience for me to show Arad to some friends from home and share how meaningful my time volunteering with OTZMA has been.
As the month of January comes to an end and I look back on my experiences thus far, I know that OTZMA has already given an experience that I will be forever grateful for. As the program continues, I look forward to strengthening my relationships within Arad because I know that as much as I can give to Arad, I am receiving so much more in return.